Sports Illustrated owner Maven raises $20M to power controversial publishing plans

Maven CEO James Heckman. (Maven Photo)

Maven, the Seattle-based media company that purchased Sports Illustrated earlier this year, has raised $20 million and revealed more of its strategy for the iconic sports publication, as well as plans to enter political news ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Public filings reveal the new financing, which Maven confirmed to GeekWire. Investors on the filing include members of Maven’s board:

  • Maven CEO James Heckman
  • Maven President Josh Jacobs
  • Maven Chairman John Fichthorn, head of alternative investments for B. Riley Capital Management
  • David Bailey, co-founder of and chairman of the Foundation
  • Peter Mills, former CEO of Cimbal Inc.
  • Rinku Sen, former executive director of Race Forward and publisher of
  • Todd Sims, senior vice president of digital strategy of Anschutz Entertainment Group

Maven, which is publicly-traded, also published.a presentation for investors that details how the company aims to make money in online media. The basic pitch is to purchase flagship brands such as Sports Illustrated, create a network of independent channels under that brand, and use contributors to fill those channels with articles and videos.

Maven recently made headlines following layoffs at Sports Illustrated, which drew criticism from employees and unions including the LA Times Guild and the NewsGuild of New York. They decried the cuts as yet another example of sacrificing quality journalism in a quest for fleeting profits.

Last year, Maven acquired Say Media and Hubpages, laying off more than a dozen staff members shortly thereafter.

The company has pushed back against its detractors, citing plans to hire new contributors and other efforts at “revitalizing and strengthening” Sports Illustrated.

Maven aims to have 200 team-specific websites under Sports Illustrated and 60 “financial journalist partnerships” within TheStreet, which it acquired earlier this year. But those are just two of more than 30 “content networks” that Maven aims to build.

The company is also “actively pursuing” a news and politics brand that would bring together more than 100 journalists in time to cover the 2020 elections.

(Maven investor presentation)

CNBC’s “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer, who co-founded TheStreet, recently launched Bull Market Fantasy, a fantasy sports brand within Sports Illustrated. Maven has also hired former NFL players and journalists to lead the publication’s new team-specific websites.

By sharing technology and costs, the company hopes to turn struggling-yet-recognizable media brands into profitable businesses. On the publishing side, Maven will negotiate all advertising contracts and provide the publishing platform. Publishers will become part of Maven’s platform on an invite-only basis, and the company will make money through advertising and subscriptions.

“The old model for publishers is dead,” the company wrote in the investor presentation, adding that independent publishers could not compete with advertising giants Google and Facebook.

(Maven investor presentation)

Maven told investors that it aimed to raise $25 million and was pricing shares at $0.70 each, which would give the company a post-money valuation of $188 million. The company expects to make more than $30 million in digital revenue in the fourth quarter of 2019 and to be profitable next year.

The media company launched in 2017 and is led by Heckman, the founder and former Yahoo executive. Heckman helped raise $70 million in venture capital, but the site hit a wall during the dot-com bust and eventually sold to a Tennessee company, which was then sold to Yahoo in 2007 for a reported purchase price of $100 million.

In addition to the publications it owns directly, Maven also has partnerships with Maxim, Yoga Journal,, Ski Magazine and 300 other brands.

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